Aleteia logoAleteia logo
Friday 23 April |
Saint of the Day: St. George
home iconLifestyle
line break icon

Are all bad thoughts sinful?

young woman thinking

By Leszek Glasner|Shutterstock

Edifa - published on 05/04/20

Every day thousands of thoughts run through our minds. Some are not particularly charitable or righteous, but are they sinful? 

Every time as we recite “I confess to Almighty God …”, we are reminded of four kinds of sin: in thought, word, deed, and omission. In fact, if temptation usually comes to us from the outside, sin always emerges from within our heart and mind, and requires our acquiescence and complicity.

Only intentional thoughts can be sinful

In His conversation with the Pharisees on what is pure and impure, Jesus points out that the things that sully a person are not those that enter into us “but the things that come out of a person’s mouth, come from the heart, these defile him. For out of the heart come evil thoughts—murder, adultery, sexual immorality, theft, false testimony, slander” (Matt. 15:18-19).The Sermon on the Mount also warns us of this (Matt. 5:22 and 28).

St. Augustine of Hippo indicates that men who abstain from evil deeds but not from evil thoughts cleanse their flesh but not their spirit. He gives a very graphic example of a man who lusts after a woman and doesn’t actually go to bed with her, but does so in his thoughts.St. Jerome also shares this opinion: “It’s not the will to sin that this man lacks, it’s the opportunity”.

There are two different kinds of thoughts. Most of the time, we’re not talking about actual thoughts in a strictest sense of the word, but of things that go through our minds without us realizing it.These thoughts may lead us to temptation, but temptation is not a sin. St. Augustine emphasizes this: “it is not merely to be tickled by fleshly delight, but to fully consent to lust; so that the forbidden appetite is not restrained, but satisfied if opportunity should be given.” Only conscious thoughts are sinful (or virtuous) — they presuppose active thinking on our part, accepting a thought and developing it.

Becoming a master of one’s own thoughts

To this we must add that a chaotic train of “thought” is a part of human condition we’ve inherited since the fall of man.It perturbs the clarity, the serenity, and the intelligence of our hearts and minds. This is why we must patiently and decisively take control of our thoughts and desires. Let us make this Scripture verse from Philippians 4:8 our guiding principle: “Whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable… think on these things …”

Father Alain Bandelier


Read more:
A prayer to help you beat temptation


Read more:
How to get rid of bad thoughts

Personal Growth
Support Aleteia!

If you’re reading this article, it’s thanks to the generosity of people like you, who have made Aleteia possible.

Here are some numbers:

  • 20 million users around the world read every month
  • Aleteia is published every day in seven languages: English, French, Italian, Spanish, Portuguese, Polish, and Slovenian
  • Each month, readers view more than 50 million pages
  • Nearly 4 million people follow Aleteia on social media
  • Each month, we publish 2,450 articles and around 40 videos
  • We have 60 full time staff and approximately 400 collaborators (writers, translators, photographers, etc.)

As you can imagine, these numbers represent a lot of work. We need you.

Support Aleteia with as little as $1. It only takes a minute. Thank you!

Daily prayer
And today we celebrate...

Top 10
Cerith Gardiner
New study shows that these 2 childhood habits make you a happier ...
Philip Kosloski
5 Fascinating facts about Jesus in the Eucharist
Bret Thoman, OFS
“Jesus, you take care of it”: Prayer of a priest Padr...
Bret Thoman, OFS
What Padre Pio saw in the Spanish Flu of 1918
Philip Kosloski
Padre Pio’s favorite prayer of petition
Eric Clapton, Luciano Pavarotti, East London Gospel Choir
J-P Mauro
Hear Clapton and Pavarotti sing a prayer to the “Holy Mothe...
Philip Kosloski
Catholic prayers for anxiety
See More